Friday, May 04, 2007

Fiction Sandwich

I was over reading on Ellen Tevault's Blog, and was intrigued by this book reference she mentioned. It's from Building Fiction: How to Develop Plot and Structure by Jesse Lee Kercheval. He says:

"I find it helpful to think of the layers of a character's mind as a consciousness sandwich. First comes the bread, usually physical action. Granny leaned forward to whisper in Mrs. Mortonson's ear, or dialogue, 'Is that piano in tune?' Then comes the lettuce, interior monologue: Why do I bother to talk to Mary Mortonson? she thought. Everybody knew she was deaf as an andiron. Next comes the tomato, summary general feelings: She didn't like sitting with all the other useless old widows. Then we reach the meat, translated unconscious thought: She felt like an old rag doll tossed to one side, her head all cotton batting, her sawdust soul leaking away little by little. Finally we come back out to the bread, action and dialogue: She sneezed hard and reached for her handkerchief. 'Damn,' she said." (Kercheval, 33-34)


And I thought, how interesting a metaphor. I'm not sure it's a great one, because it seems to be talking about a style rather than an overall approach to form, and about a rather limited window of text, rather than a whole story or a novel, but it still intrigues me. I think, since so much of what moves a plot forward is the action pacing/dialogue, that it's not inappropriate to think if the connective tissue of a story as being that external movement.

How does Kercheval's outline hit you? Other metaphors that work for you in how you perceive the structure of a story?

6 comments:

Aureliusz Kalliokoski said...

Metaphor doesn't do much for me; though, maybe that's because I had to read it three and a half times to understand anything. All the food stuff confuses me. I'd rather have the same points next to numbers 1-4.

I think we all tend to go a bit metaphor-crazy sometimes, using cute comparisons to explain concepts that don't need them.

More clarity, less sandwiches, onions, and pies for this fellow.

MariAdkins said...

What Aureliusz said. ;)

Sean M. Murphy said...

Hey Aureliusz, thanks for stopping by. I certainly agree that we do, each of us, occasionally tarry a bit too long skinny-dipping in the fluid of similies, rolling about in the tangled threads of comparison until we've clothed ourselves in the gossamer stuff of ideas and forget that we're actually still naked.

Emperors all, as it were.

Douglas Hulick said...

I think the metaphor, while interesting, is too vertical. I prefer to think of story in linear terms, with the motion going forward. As you say, it is also more of a method of character building, as opposed to structuring a story.

Even then, I'm not sure if I'm ecstatic with the metaphor because, well, it seems like a lot of layers to have to wade through. In some instances I can see where it would help, but I can also see where attemting this method could bog the narrative down, too. Yes, there are times we need to know that level of character motivation, but there are many others where it is not necessary for the action or moment at hand.


Sometimes characters are just apples - they don't all have to be onions. :)

Erik Buchanan said...

I was going to add a deeply insightful meaningful comment, but you folks have pretty much said what I was thinking.

I will add that the problem with this is that is sounds as if you need four passes at every section to reach this level, rather than getting it out the first time. Makes it hard to write if you have to do part one at a time.

Anonymous said...

The metaphor doesn't do it for me either, though it's making me hungry. But it basically parallels the 'scene and sequel' structure discussed by Jack Bickham in the Elements of Fiction Writing series book on Scene and Structure. He says plot moves through Action - Emotion - Thought - Decision - New Action.

The thing I found useful in his analysis was the breakdown of how not just action but also reaction sequences, interacting with each other, make 'motion going forward.'

-CJD